Putting the boot into boot camps

Central Leader - - News -

They ar­rived within hours of each other from dif­fer­ent sources. One was a re­port on the Fair­fax Stuff web­site, the other a typ­i­cal un­so­licited, un­sourced email. There was a sig­nif­i­cant and un­stated link.

First the news item. It was headed, very ac­cu­rately, “Judge puts boot into boot camps”.

It quoted prin­ci­pal Youth Court judge An­drew Be­croft on the ear­lier ver­sion of “cor­rec­tive train­ing camps” which ran un­til 2002.

His ver­dict: “The tra­di­tional boot camp for young of­fend­ers was ar­guably the least suc­cess­ful sen­tence in the West­ern world ... 92 per­cent of those in­volved were back into crime within a year ... a spec­tac­u­lar, tragic flawed fail­ure ... it made them health­ier, fit­ter, faster, but they were still bur­glars, just harder to catch ...”

The sec­ond item to hit my screen was said by an anony­mous donor to have been pub­lished as an obituary in The Times (Lon­don, not North Shore). Now read on:

“To­day we mourn the pass­ing of a beloved old friend, Com­mon Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bu­reau­cratic red tape.

“He will be re­mem­bered as hav­ing cul­ti­vated such valu­able lessons as know­ing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm, life isn’t al­ways fair and maybe it was my fault.

“Com­mon Sense lived by sim­ple, sound fi­nan­cial poli­cies – don’t spend more than you can earn – and re­li­able strate­gies – adults, not chil­dren, are in charge.

“His health be­gan to de­te­ri­o­rate rapidly when wellinten­tioned but over­bear­ing reg­u­la­tions were set in place.

“Re­ports of a six-year-old boy charged with sex­ual ha­rass­ment for kiss­ing a class­mate; teens sus­pended from school for us­ing mouth­wash af­ter lunch and a teacher fired for rep­ri­mand­ing an un­ruly stu­dent, only wors­ened his con­di­tion.

“Com­mon Sense lost ground when par­ents at­tacked teach­ers for do­ing the job that they them­selves had failed to do in dis­ci­plin­ing their un­ruly chil­dren.

“He de­clined even fur­ther when schools were re­quired to get parental con­sent to ad­min­is­ter sun lo­tion or an aspirin to a stu­dent but could not in­form par­ents when a stu­dent be­came preg­nant and wanted to have an abor­tion.

“Com­mon Sense lost the will to live as the churches be­came busi­nesses; and crim­i­nals re­ceived bet­ter treat­ment than their vic­tims.

“Com­mon Sense took a beat­ing when you couldn’t de­fend your­self from a bur­glar in your own home and the bur­glar could sue you for as­sault.

“Com­mon Sense was pre­ceded in death by his par­ents Truth and Trust, by his wife Dis­cre­tion, by his daugh­ter Re­spon­si­bil­ity, and by his son Rea­son.

“He is sur­vived by his four step­broth­ers – I Know My Rights, I Want It Now, Some­one Else Is To Blame, I’m A Vic­tim.

“Not many at­tended his fu­neral be­cause so few re­alised he was gone.”

Th­ese days, when so much is threat­en­ing, when the fu­ture seems sus­pect, when, for ex­am­ple, those boot camps are seen by some as an an­swer to hoons, when ‘ three strikes and you’re in’ is hailed as a heavy weapon to beat the chron­i­cally vi­o­lent, maybe a re­birth of Com­mon Sense could be added into the mix.

What would he have thought of the judge’s boot camp ver­dict. Or the re­sponse of So­cial De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Paula Ben­nett?

She agreed the old boot camps lacked the nec­es­sary fol­low-up sup­port to work.

But the gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed mil­i­tary-style ac­tiv­ity camps would be fol­lowed by six to nine months of in­ten­sive men­tor­ing, she said.

“At no point are we go­ing to throw them in there, get them fit, beat them around a lit­tle bit and send them back on the street, that’s just not it at all,” she said.

The three-month camps for the coun­try’s 40 most danger­ous young of­fend­ers would use army-type fa­cil­i­ties and train­ing meth­ods to teach self-dis­ci­pline, per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity and com­mu­nity val­ues as well as lit­er­acy, nu­mer­acy and drug and al­co­hol sup­port.

Hav­ing looked at all this, the late Mr Com­mon Sense could ad­vise on pol­icy which sounded so im­pres­sive in the cam­paign.

At that time, with po­lit­i­cal power as the prize, prom­ises were made which hyp­no­tised past and po­ten­tial vic­tims into nod­ding agree­ment.

Polling pledges made the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” ex­po­nents even more en­thu­si­as­tic – and even stirred the cap­i­tal pu­n­ish­ment ad­vo­cates.

I’d like to have talked through the boot camp project with him.

Would he have agreed or felt we were sim­ply adding to the un­jus­ti­fied mana of those who are al­ready pre­pared to beat, bash and rob, shoot sleep­ing chil­dren in drive-by ram­pages sim­ply to earn a gang patch or set­tle a stupid feud?

Mr C Sense might have given us some guid­ance, for in­stance, on how many in that Wan­ganui killer car gave even a sec­ond’s thought to pos­si­ble out­comes for them be­fore revving up and pulling the trig­ger?

Or whether an ear­lier boot camp ex­pe­ri­ence would have changed the be­hav­iour of Nia Glassie’s killers.

He might have had some no­tion whether dou­bling sen­tences or the risk of gang novices end­ing up in boot camp would make any dif­fer­ence.

Would he have wor­ried at the statis­tic Judge Be­croft quoted that nine out of 10 boot campers un­der the pre­vi­ous scheme were back into crime within a year?

I won­der whether dear old Com­mon Sense could have helped us in some other im­por­tant mat­ters.

What would Mr C Sense have made of a be­lief I have that many crim­i­nals go about their ugly busi­ness without a sin­gle thought of be­ing found out?

Would he have pon­dered whether many killings come from flashes of un­con­trolled anger without any weigh­ing up of what the risks of de- tec­tion are and how many years be­hind bars might fol­low?

Or are they the prod­uct of the drugs we un­der­stand­ably worry so much about?

What would he have made of killers who do time, then kill again?

Would he have wor­ried at plans for delin­quents to go to school wear­ing their elec­tronic tracking bracelets, whether the gear would be seen by their mates as a sym­bol of wrong­do­ing or cool in the ex­treme.

Are you sure? I’m not. And we need to be.

That’s why I hope the par­lia­men­tary plan­ners, the se­lect com­mit­tee mem­bers and the MPs who fi­nally head for the “Yes” or “No” lob­bies to vote might find a way to act on af­ter-death ad­vice from Mr C Sense to as­sure them that what they de­cide is the right course.

You will see from his obituary that he was nei­ther a pu­n­ish­ment ex­trem­ist, nor a mind­less do-gooder, that he spoke for vic­tims and those without a voice, that he wasn’t swayed by emo­tion or thought­less anger.

He set an ex­am­ple for all of us to fol­low – never more than now.

To con­tact Pat Booth email off­pat@snl.co.nz or write care of this news­pa­per. All replies are open for pub­li­ca­tion un­less marked Not For Pub­li­ca­tion.

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